Le’ Notes #45: A.T. Mahan on naval preponderance

Short note on Mahan’s thoughts on naval preponderance.

Mahan surprisingly wrote a bit on naval diplomacy though he didn’t actually call it such; it was something that academics would later describe. Most of his thoughts on naval diplomacy are not found in his famous work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History. Instead, it is found in a collection of his stand-alone articles in various periodicals which have been compiled under the title The Interest of America in Sea Power.

Though Mahan tends to be associated with the idea of the “big fleet battle” and the six conditions for sea power, he also thought about  how navies could be used to project political power (well, in this case, American power). However, his prescription for “naval preponderance” tends to be overshadowed by his geopolitical thinking. To extract a sliver of Mahan’s thoughts on “showing the flag”—an idea often credited to him (see here and here)—requires careful scouring of his article titled “The Isthmus and Sea Power”.

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Geoffrey Till – The strategic importance of islands

This SemText summarises Geoffrey Till’s talk at CSIS Jakarta regarding the strategic uses and importance of islands in Southeast Asian maritime security.

Since 2013, China had embarked on a mission to create artificial islands in the South China Sea. In their view, these islands are markers of sovereignty; they mark Chinese influence over the maritime expanse of the South China Sea. Based on satellite data compiled by CSIS AMTI, many of these islands are already equipped with military installations. 

So, one question that could be asked: What’s up with islands? That is what Professor Geoffrey Till addresses in his lecture. I took the liberty of adding some points to his explanation, as he typically delivers his lectures in a very general manner. 

Simply put, there are two main parts of the lecture. First, he talked about the geographic importance of islands and how they contribute to maritime power. Second, he focuses on the emergence of new technologies and how this encourages a shift from “open ocean” operations to the littoral. This is supplemented with a review of trends in naval development in the Indo-Pacific, though it wasn’t too in-depth.

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The recent Natuna standoff and Indonesian responses

The year 2020 kicked off with a major bang. The United States assassinated General Soleimani, bringing the two countries closer to the brink of war. In the Southern hemisphere, Australia’s bush fires continue to blaze and Jakarta experienced its worst flood in decades. At sea, however, is where tensions are more evident, particularly between Indonesia and China.

What happened?

Since 19 December 2019, 65 Chinese fishing vessels have trespassed into Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone off the Natuna islands. The Natunas are located just outside of China’s Nine-Dash Line (9DL for short). Though Indonesia is not an official claimant in the South China Sea dispute, the Natunas EEZ proximity with the 9DL makes it easy for Chinese fishing and Coast Guard vessels to trespass. 

This is not the first time Chinese vessels have encroached Indonesia’s EEZ. Three similar incidents occurred in 2016 in March, May, and June respectively. The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a formal diplomatic note in response to the March incident. The June incident involved hot pursuit and warning shots by the Indonesian Navy, which prompted a stern response from China. 

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Sketching out Jokowi’s Caribbean economic strategy

This is a rejected commentary piece, which I thought would be better posted here than being forgotten on my hard drive.

Recent achievements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in the Caribbean include the recent establishment of diplomatic relations with Barbados and the first full-fledged diplomatic visit to Suriname after 26 years in 2019. Looking from the MOFA’s performance report in 2018, the Caribbean seems to have gained renewed attention having been absent from foreign policy discourse since the Yudhoyono administration. 

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Le’ Notes #44: Foreign policy analysis – the individual level

This is the second post in the Foreign Policy Analysis miniseries which discusses the role of cognition and belief sets in influencing foreign policy decisions.

Remember President Truman and his “The buck stops here” sign? The function of the sign was to remind him that he was the one who would make the final call on a policy decision. Not his Vice President. Though Barkley could chip in his two cents, by virtue of structural authority, Barkley did not have any power to execute a policy decision.

Margaret Hermann and Joe Hagan (1998) [paywall] wrote:

We grade Bill Clinton’s performance abroad; argue about why Benjamin Netanyahu is or is not stalling the Middle East peace process; debate Mohammed Khatami’s intentions regarding Iranian relations with the United States; and ponder what will happen in South Africa or Russia when Nelson Mandela or Boris Yeltsin leaves office.

What Hermann and Hagan observed was the importance of a state leader as an important decision unit in foreign policy analysis. They are the ones who perceive the international system and domestic political landscape, interpret signals and conditions, and then act upon they believe to be the best course of action. So the question now is, how do we analyse these individuals and understand their way of thinking?

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Ivory Tower Writing #19: Writing a film review for class

Though a film review wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a piece of academic writing (a book review would, which I’ll address in a future post), it’s indeed a nifty and also low-stress (experience may vary) exercise which helps sharpen that eye for detail, analytical argument, and reflexive skills (as in, “reflection” not motoric reflexes). 

And not to mention there’s an entire field of study in IR devoted to understanding the influence of pop culture and IR. In that sub-field, reflective analysis of films (also known as “visual artifacts”) make up a substantial part of the literature (see, for example, Heck’s analysis of narratives in docudramas [paywall]).

So, how do you write a reflective film review? This post provides some general guidelines. As such, it shouldn’t be treated as an authoritative template; instead, think of it as a simple checklist of things you may want to make sure are included in your review.

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A volley of misguided higher-ed policies and now, we’re supposed to import university presidents?

In 2016, Minister for Higher Education, Research, and Technology (just “DIKTI” for short), Mohammad Nasir, proposed importing university presidents to chair in national universities. The proposal was buffeted with negative criticism and eventually died down. Three years on, it has resurfaced.

Why did this proposal resurface? According to the Jakarta Post, Nasir, speaking on behalf of the government, basically wants to “get local universities listed among the top 200 universities in the world.”

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